WHY I AM VOTING AGAINST INITIATIVE 42
Rep. Andy Gipson
Initiative 42 a/k/a the “Better Schools Better Jobs” initiative is getting a lot of press these days, and rightly so. Before voting on November 3rd, people ought to know the likely effect of changing our State Constitution to put state courts over children’s education. Proponents of Initiative 42 have spent millions of dollars trying to convince Mississippians that the proposal will only require full funding of education, but their claims do not line up with the text of the proposed amendment. Initiative 42 is confusing to most people, so let’s unpack the details of the language of Initiative 42 and examine why the so-called “school full funding initiative” is so disturbing to many Mississippians, myself included.
Section 201 of the State Constitution currently provides: “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”
Initiative 42, if approved by the voters on November 3, 2015 would change Section 201 to read as follows: “To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”
• Initiative 42 Will Erode Parents’ Fundamental Rights. Initiative 42 would grant children, not parents, a radically new State constitutional “child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity.” Under our constitutional system of government, the Supreme Court has historically recognized that parents, not children, have the fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of our children. For example, in the 1925 decision Pierce v. Society of Sisters the Supreme Court found that parents have the fundamental right to direct a child’s education: “The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right and the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” In the 2000 decision Troxel v. Granville, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the “fundamental right of parents to rear their children.” Currently parents can decide to enroll their children in their local public school, another school district, a private or religious school, or even homeschool depending on what the parent believes is best for the child. Initiative 42 would provide an end-run around the fundamental educational rights of parents, granting them to children. These are the same types of rights seen in other states where children have sued to obtain “divorces” from parents, or to assert other rights against parents. As a parent, I believe we do have and should continue to have the right to raise and educate our children according to what we as parents believe is best. Initiative 42 will take the rights of parents and transfer them to children.
• Initiative 42 Increases the Power of the “State.” Initiative 42 would grant new powers to some unaccountable agency of the “State” by requiring that the “State shall provide for” education, not the Legislature. Under our current Constitution, the Legislature as the elected body of the people is responsible and accountable to the people for providing for public schools. Initiative 42 would remove the elected Legislature from the process and shift power to the “State” – an undefined impersonal bureaucracy or agency of state government. The people of Mississippi therefore will lose the voice of our elected Legislature in crafting and shaping state educational policy. Who knows which unelected division of the “State” will step up to mandate the educational system for our children?
• Initiative 42 Goes Much Further than Funding. Initiative 42 will require an undefined “adequate and efficient system” of public schools, not limited to funding. Who will decide what is adequate and efficient? The courts are granted that power under Initiative 42. Courts will hear cases brought perhaps by children, represented by attorneys such as those who crafted Initiative 42. Courts may require the State’s mandatory instructional system be implemented for all affected children and parents. This could involve any aspect of education, not just funding. The State and the courts will be given broad latitude to make virtually all decisions to implement an “adequate and efficient system” regarding issues such as: curriculum (ie: Common Core), taxation, staffing, student-teacher ratios, administration, school district consolidation, and the like. The court may decide that New York or California curriculum is “adequate and efficient.” The court may require that tax dollars from one part of the state be transferred to another school district. The court may raise taxes to pay for these changes. The possibilities are endless, because the phrase “adequate and efficient system” is not defined, and there are no limitations on this power of the courts.
• Initiative 42 Grants Improper Powers to Chancery Courts. Initiative 42 will hand the entire state educational system over to the chancery courts for enforcement. Most Mississippians have been personally involved, or have had family members involved in situations before the chancery courts. Chancery courts are the courts who typically handle divorce, child custody, other family issues, land disputes, will contests, estates, and the like. To be sure, chancery courts play an important role in our society, but I think most Mississippians would agree with me that a chancery judge is not equipped to mandate or impose a statewide system of public schools. Moreover, the State may only be sued in Hinds County, Mississippi. Can we as parents really run the risk of having our children’s education dictated by a judge in Hinds County? I think not.
As a person who takes our constitutional freedoms seriously, as a taxpayer, as a pastor, and most importantly as a parent of four children, I have reached a personal conclusion. My conclusion is that the good intentions of Initiative 42 proponents are outweighed by the enormous legal risks in shifting the entire educational system to the courts. We should not be surprised by these risks, since liberal lawyers carefully drafted Initiative 42 to achieve their purposes. As is the case with most well-intentioned proposals, the devil is in the details. On November 3rd please join me in voting against Initiative 42.
Taken from Rep. Gipson’s Facebook page